It’s hard to stomach that at the start of the 21st Century, in a relatively prosperous economy with a climate like ours, between 1,500 and 2,000 people die annually from cold-related illness. Or, to put that another way, they die because they cannot afford to heat their homes.
The majority them are aged over 65. They are in communities across Ireland. These deaths are one of the hidden, forgotten and shameful features of today’s Ireland.
The cold can and does kill each winter. The majority of its victims do not die of hypothermia, but from cold-related conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular illness. It is estimated that 7.5 per cent of all pensioner households, more than 16,300 homes, suffer fuel poverty.
Not all older people are at risk. Those who struggle most are pensioners living alone, on low incomes, in poorly insulated homes, and those with a physical disability or condition that restricts their movement.
The other group in society who struggle most with fuel poverty are single parents with young children. While the two groups might seem different, they share common features such as low, fixed incomes and greater heating needs.
Ignored by policymakers
Fuel poverty in Ireland and the shameful winter death rate have not received the attention they deserve but Age Action has not let the issue drop off our agenda.
In the run-up to last October’s Budget we sought the reversal of the cuts to the fuel allowance by extending the payment for four weeks. The payments for the current winter season will end on 31 March.
However, there have been some positive developments, such as the Government’s Warmth and Wellbeing scheme which was launched last year. Originally a pilot scheme offering a free energy upgrade to older people in energy poverty in Dublin 12 and 24 it is being extended this year to Dublin 8, 10 and 22.
The project will examine changes in hospitalisation rates, mortality, mental health and stress levels of the participants. In essence, researchers will track the impact warmer, better insulated, homes make on those living there.
But this scheme must be only the start of a serious, concerted, Government campaign to end fuel poverty in Ireland, something Age Action will keep fighting for.
To find out more about the Warmth and Wellbeing scheme and details of other home insulation grant schemes, visit www.seai.ie, phone Age Action’s information team at 01-475 6989 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.